When it comes to hairstyling, two products reign supreme – wax sticks and hair gel. But which one is better? Wax and gel each offer their own benefits for hold and finish. The age-old debate of wax vs gel comes down to the style you want to achieve and your hair’s needs. This comprehensive guide covers all the differences between wax sticks and gel, from ingredients to application. Read on to learn whether wax or gel is better for your hair.
What are Hair Wax Sticks?
First, let’s review the basics of what defines a hair wax stick. Hair wax comes in a solid stick form that needs to be warmed between the fingers before applying. The waxy texture provides light, pliable hold with a subtle shine. Wax allows you to style hair while retaining a soft, natural look and feel.
Wax sticks are made from ingredients like:
- Beeswax – flexible hold, shine
- Lanolin – hydration
- Mineral oil – softness
- Natural oils – condition, control frizz
- Vitamin E – antioxidant and damage repair
These ingredients give wax its signature ability to style hair without stiffness, stickiness or crunch. Modern water-based wax formulas rinse clean without leaving residue. Overall, wax aims to style hair while keeping it touchable and looking like real, natural hair.
What is Hair Gel?
In contrast to wax, hair gel provides stronger hold for locking styles in place. There are many gel types and formulas, but gel is defined by its stiff finish. Standard gels contain polymers, alcohol, and silicones to achieve hold.
Gel is applied liberally through wet or dry hair. It sets styles firmly so they cannot be restyled without re-wetting. Gel gives hair a slick, shiny, wet look. While wax washes out easily, gel requires deep cleansing shampoos to fully remove.
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s compare wax and gel across 5 categories.
Wax vs Gel – Hold and Finish
The level of hold is the biggest difference between waxes and gels.
- Wax offers light, movable hold. You can reshape and restyle wax all day by hand without needing water. Wax allows you to achieve messy, undone, lived-in hairstyles that still look polished.
- Gel gives hair a stiff, permanent hold. Gel sets styles firmly in place so they cannot be altered without re-wetting hair. This allows very structured styles that stay locked in.
Similarly, the finishes vary significantly:
- Wax provides a soft, natural finish. Hair still feels and moves like real hair. There is subtle shine but not an overly wet look.
- Gel often has a very shiny, slick, wet finish. Gel also hardens, so styled hair can feel stiff and crunchy. The overall effect is quite shellacked and helmet-like.
So if you want movable hold and a soft finish, wax is superior. But for stiff styles that stay locked in all day, gel may be preferable.
Wax vs Gel – Hair Feel
Along with finish, the feel of your hair is drastically different with wax vs gel.
- Wax leaves hair touchable, flexible, and movable. You can run your hands through waxed hair and restyle without it feeling brittle or sticky.
- Gel can leave hair feeling crunchy and crispy with lots of stiffness. In excessive amounts, gel also leaves hair sticky and coated.
Another consideration is flaking.
- Wax washes out cleanly and doesn’t leave flaky white residue on the scalp or in the hair.
- Gel is prone to flaking either from applying too much or from the gel interacting with the hair’s natural oils over time.
If you don’t want hair that feels like a hard helmet, wax is definitely preferable over gel. Wax gives you touchable, natural-feeling strands.
Wax vs Gel – Application
Application is another major difference between waxes and gels.
- Wax is applied to dry hair in small amounts warmed between the hands. Most waxes are concentrated, so you only need a fingertip sized amount. Focus application on the areas most needing hold.
- Gel is applied liberally through strands, either on wet or dry hair. Gel is massaged in thoroughly from roots to ends to coat all of the hair.
The bonus with wax is that you can easily reapply for touch-ups or to tweak your style throughout the day. Wax re-activates every time you smooth more over hair.
With gel, once it dries and sets, re-application is difficult. Any additional gel won’t restyle the hair without wetting it again. Wax is significantly more forgiving for easy restyling.
Wax vs Gel – Ingredients
Let’s look at what goes into making wax and gel next.
- Hair wax relies on natural ingredients like beeswax and plant oils. These ingredients have hair benefits – beeswax conditions while oils moisturize and control frizz. Overall, wax nourishes hair.
- Hair gel uses synthetic polymers like PVP and VP/VA copolymer to achieve its rigid hold. Gel also contains alcohol, which can dry out hair over time. The chemicals in gel can damage hair with long-term use.
For ingredients that actually improve your hair’s texture and shine, wax is the winner. Gel’s synthetics simply coat the hair to hold it stiffly in place.
Wax vs Gel – Washability
How easily does the product wash out of hair?
- Hair wax washes out cleanly with just 1-2 regular shampoos. Water-based wax formulas thoroughly shampoo out of hair without leaving waxy residue behind.
- Gel requires deep cleansing shampoos to fully remove from hair. The polymers bond tightly to the hair, so it takes scrubbing to get all the gel out. Leftover gel can lead to buildup.
For hair that feels freshly cleaned after washing, wax is far easier to shampoo out. Choose a gel-free shampoo to optimize wax removal.
The Takeaway – Which is Better, Hair Wax vs Gel?
So in the battle of wax stick vs hair gel, which styling product wins out?
If you want…
- Touchable, flexible hold – choose wax
- Messy, natural textures – choose wax
- Subtle shine – choose wax
- Soft finish – choose wax
- Ingredients that nourish – choose wax
However, if you require…
- Rigid, sculpted styles – choose gel
- Slick, wet shine – choose gel
- Firm hold – choose gel
- Crisp definition – choose gel
Assess your hairstyle goals and hair needs. Do you want your hair to move and feel natural or stay locked sculpturally in place? There’s no definitively “better” product – it comes down to the style and finish you want to achieve.
Both wax and gel have their virtues. But if you desire workable hold, touchable hair, and natural movement, wax is undoubtedly superior to gel. With the right styling techniques, wax sticks give you movable hold and texture while leaving hair looking and feeling clean, soft and real.